I’m convinced God of War Ascension is the victim of terrible release timing. In the past three months we’ve seen three beat ‘em up style games release – DmC, Metal Gear Rising, and of course Ascension. And when compared next to its competitors, God of War Ascension feels dated. Maybe if Ascension released before those other two titles things would have been different, but as it stands, Ascension is that mid-40s mom trying to convince her daughter and her hip, stylish friends that momma still’s got the 4-1-1. But damn girl, where it counts, you do not. It’s time to switch it up.
Ascension beats the exact same drum this series has been beating since 2005, and it’s finally starting to show, or at the very least, I’m finally starting to take notice. If you’ve ever played a God of War game in the past, whether on the PS2, PS3 or PSP, then you know exactly what you’re getting into with Ascension, for better or worse. If that’s your thing, awesome, but if not, then Ascension makes no attempt to change your mind on the series. It’s the exact same gory gameplay with that familiar backdrop of epic, Greek-inspired set pieces, albeit with a few new power-ups like time manipulation and a much more nimble Kratos during platforming segments (honestly my favorite part of the new game).
For Ascension, we flash back in time to before Kratos dethrones Ares and becomes the new God of War. However, Sony Santa Monica drops the ball on mining this potentially fertile storytelling field. Ascension provides nothing new that hasn’t already been said about Kratos in previous games (not like much as been said in the first place). Come to think of it, I have a hard time even remembering what the plot of Ascension is. On a basic level it’s once again about Kratos being his typical pissed off self, only this time he isn’t hunting Zeus and the rest of the Greek pantheon but instead a group of nasty ol’ Furies. Beyond that, though, I couldn’t tell you what drives Kratos is this time around. Anger. Again. Maybe. Yawn.
But if anything, at least Ascension’s thin plot takes us on a ride to some pretty exotic locales. If you’re thinking about picking up Ascension just to see how pretty the series has become since 2010’s God of War III, then I can understand your train of thought. God of War Ascension is a very, very pretty game, sporting a wide variety of locations for you to slaughter goats, trolls, bugs, harpies and mutant dogs within. The gameplay in these areas might not bring anything shockingly new to the table, but if you’re looking for a new graphical benchmark for the PS3, you’ve found it in Ascension.
Although, the pretty graphics do come at a price, which brings me around to the one aspect of the game that I truly despise at points – the camera. Much like previous entries in the series, Ascension features a fixed camera. For the most part, it works just fine. But sometimes in order to show off the pretty background landscapes and level design, Sony Santa Monica pulls the camera back so far that Kratos looks like an ant. This is great for showing off scale, but terrible when you’re in the middle of combat and swamped by a dozen or so guys that want nothing more than to rip your head off. I died countless times because I couldn’t keep track of where I was in the chaotic shuffle. When gameplay is sacrificed in order for Sony Santa Monica to pat themselves on their own back, you know that’s a red flag.
Here’s the thing: God of War Ascension’s campaign does not offer anything you haven’t already experienced before in other God of War titles. The stories have been better; the gameplay scenarios have been more imaginative, too. The only thing Ascension offers that you can’t find in any other God of War is multiplayer. It’s a first for this series, and as I outlined in a previous feature, it actually works quite well. There are a number of inspired maps to play on, experience points to be had and upgrades to unlock, as well as game types that range from competitive to cooperative.
But there are a few things that irk me about multiplayer. For instance, oftentimes the gory death animations replace your character’s customized look with a default, stock appearance. It’s also hard to feel like your contributing much to a match when you’re new to the experience and forced to go toe to toe with players of a much higher rank than you; their unlocks will quickly put you in your place.
All in all, I wouldn’t call Ascension’s multiplayer the killer app of the package, but it does help make up for the lack of an inspired campaign. God of War has always had some tight, responsive gameplay mechanics, and now you can use said mechanics to beat your friends into bloody pulps. That has to count for something, right?
Multiplayer aside, God of War Ascension suffers from been-there-done-that syndrome. Epic set pieces are great and all, but a severe lack of innovation is what caught my eye this time out. Sony Santa Monica need to head back to the drawing board because coasting on fumes isn’t cutting it anymore. It appears as though the God of War series is in desperate need of a revitalizing spark.
We received one review copy of God of War Ascension for PS3 from Sony. Before starting our review, we played through the campaign, and then tested out multiplayer for a handful of hours.